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History of the Navajo

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The Navajo were one of the great Southwestern Native American tribes. Their history, culture, and art and tradition will be discussed.

The people who were going to become the Navajo tribe settled in what would be the mountains of New Mexico in or around the 1600's. Prior to that time the area was the home of the Anasazi (The Ancient Ones.) The Anasazi had lived there for approximately 1200 years but, for unexplained reasons, they abandoned their highly developed dwellings and moved westward and southward.

A new group of people, the Athapascans, migrated from what are now Canada, Alaska, and the American Northwest southward to settle in the Southwest of America. Some of this group of Southern Athapascans settled the mountainous region of New Mexico and came to be known as the Navajos, or as they prefer to be called, Dine (the People.) Other Athapascans continued moving southward and settled in Arizona where they became known as the Apache Tribe.

In the 1600's the Spanish began to intrude on the Pueblo Indians of Arizona; the hostility thus gradually spread northward to involve the Navajos. In 1680 the Pueblos revolted against these European invaders and succeeded in temporarily stopping their suppression. At this time many Pueblos moved northward to join Navajo settlements. The Navajo then began to adopt the Pueblo agricultural, sheep raising and weaving methods that are still evident today.

The Navajo adapted well to the new farming methods but continued their warlike behavior of raiding Spanish settlements as well as those of their Hopi, Pueblo and Zuni neighbors.

A major defeat for the Navajos occurred in Canyon de Muertes in 1804 when a group of Navajos confronted a party of Spanish horsemen. The Indians were trapped on a ledge of the canyon with Spanish soldiers armed with rifles above and below them; all but one of the Navajo were killed.

In 1848, after the Mexican War, the U.S. began to send troops and settlers into the area of New Mexico. As happened with so many of the tribes throughout the U.S., the government and white settlers eventually confiscated the Navajo's land.

During the 1850's and 1860's the U.S. Army built Fort Defiance within the heart of the Navajo land. The horses, mules and cattle raised by the whites competed with the Indians' sheep for scarce grazing lands. When the Navajo complained of this, the commandant of the fort sent soldiers who slaughtered large numbers of the Indians' livestock.

In response to this complaint in 1860 the Navajos attacked and nearly destroyed Fort Defiance. For several years there were repeated skirmishes between the Indians and the U.S. Army at Fort Defiance; finally, the Fort was abandoned only because troops were needed to fight in the Civil War.

The Army returned in 1863 and General Carleton, Commandant of the Military Department of New Mexico ordered Kit Carson to move the Dine from their homes to a reservation that he had created in the plains of eastern New Mexico, Bosque Redondo. Carson carried out the orders by slaughtering men, women and children, destroying livestock and burning their crops. One of the final and bloodier battles took place in the Canyon de Chelly. When the Dine finally surrendered they were forced to walk from their homelands to their new place of residence several hundred miles away. This came to me known as The Long Walk.

In 1868 United States enters into a peace treaty with the Navajo Tribe granting it a 3.5 million acre reservation.

In 1882 Executive Order establishes a 2.4 million acre reservation for use and occupancy by the Hopi "and such other Indians as the Secretary of the Interior may see fit to settle thereon."

In 1934 legislation adds some lands and defines the boundaries of the Navajo reservation in Arizona.

In 1936 District Six, a 499,258-acre area within the 1882 reservation is recognized as encompassing all of the lands exclusively occupied by the Hopi.

In 1941 District Six is expanded to 631,194 acres; Navajo families are forced to move and never compensated or provided replacement homes.

In 1958 Congress authorizes Navajo and Hopi tribal councils to participate in a lawsuit to determine their respective rights and interests.

In 1962 in the case of Healing vs. Jones the Court rules that the Hopi Tribe has exclusive title to District Six and both Tribes have joint, equal and undivided rights to 1.8 million acres of 1882 Reservation outside of District Six.

In 1966 Commissioner of Indian Affairs Robert Bennett issues a series of administrative instructions restricting any development in the 1934 Act reservation. This becomes known as the Bennett Freeze.

In 1972 case of the United States vs. Kabinto more than 50 Navajo families are evicted from District Six without relocation assistance.

In 1974 Congress authorizes partition of the surface rights in the Joint Use Area. Relocation Commission is established and given responsibility to move those Indian families living on the wrong side of the partition line.

In 1975 after federal mediator submits recommendations, tribes are unable to agree on partitioning of the Joint Use Area. Navajo efforts to select relocation lands are blocked by non-Indian ranchers and the Interior Department.

In 1976 Hopis accept $5 million from the U.S. for aboriginal land claims with respect to Hopi lands outside District Six.

In 1980 P.L. 96-305 authorizes Navajo selection of new lands and provides for life estates to certain applicants otherwise required to relocate.

In 1985 President Reagan designates former Interior Secretary William Clark as his personal representative to encourage the tribes to settle the dispute. After seven months, Clark determines it unlikely the tribes can negotiate a settlement because the Hopi Tribe is unwilling to negotiate. P.L. 99-190 give the BIA authority to construct relocation houses on ranch lands acquired pursuant to P.L. 96-305.

The July 6, 1986 deadline for relocation of Navajos from Hopi Joint Use Area Land passes; approximately one-half of the Navajos certified for voluntary relocation benefits are not relocated.

In 1988 obligations and funding for home construction by the BIA pursuant to P.L. 99-190 are transferred to new Commissioner of the Office of Navajo and Hopi Indian Relocation pursuant to P.L. 100-666 (1988 Amendments).

In 1989 Secretary of Interior Lujan imposes a new policy that no relocation benefits

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